A bill that would require federal background checks for medical cannabis workers passed a House committee on a party-line vote.
The House Judiciary Committee voted six to five in favor of requiring more stringent criminal background checks for medical cannabis producers, caregivers and other employees or contractors.
Under the proposal, those convicted of trafficking or distributing a controlled substance would not be able to take part in producing or distributing medical cannabis in New Mexico.
The New Mexico Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, already performs background checks using a third party services online. According to a DOH representative, HB 527 would allow the department to use the National Crime Information Center in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety to conduct background checks.
Democratic members argued that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, is unnecessary as the department already performs background checks.
Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, said the bill could be shortened.
“In all honesty, you need a three sentence bill instead of a three page bill,” he told the bill’s sponsor.
A lengthy debate also centered on the legality of cannabis compared to other pharmaceutical drugs. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, questioned why DOH is concerned with medical cannabis and not with other legal narcotics. He voiced his concern that pharmacy staff does not need background checks to “dust around the cocaine.” He argued that those involved in the medical cannabis program were being singled out.
Committee Chair Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, took a moment to address Egolf’s concern. Cook said he used to work in a pharmacy and he did not remember contract cleaning crews being around illegal drugs.
“I don’t think [cleaning staff] dusted around the cocaine,” Cook said.
A Republican and Democratic member not present for the vote, so Republicans still held a majority.
The bill was amended to clarify some technical language of the bill without changing the any major part of the legislation.
With a do- pass recommendation from the committee, HB 527 will move on to the House Business and Employment Committee.